Centuries before the terms Native American or Indian were necessary, the tribes were spread all over the Americas. Before any white man set foot on this territory, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.

For thousands of years, the American Indian grew its traditions and legacy without disturbance. And that history is captivating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what is today the U.S. we have learned much. It’s a story of beautiful art and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably advanced structures and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was simply a slight blemish in the history of our forebears. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely connected to nature.

 

The European Settler Arrives


european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first ships in this direction, the goal was to discover new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from timber to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders learned from their explorers, the drive to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish raced to carve up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. At the beginning, they skirmished with the alarmed Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, because the Europeans who landed here knew their survival was doubtful with no native help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American soil. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were restless to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.

They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the shape of cash arrangements, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were almost consistently ignored once the Indians were moved away from the land in question.

treaty at new amsterdam

The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were motivated by the desire to expand westward into areas occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly all Native American tribes, approximately 360,000 in number, lived to the west of the Mississippi River. These American Indians, some from the Northwestern and Southeastern territories, were confined to Indian Territory situated in contemporary Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the territory of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups met adversity as the steady flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already populated by these diverse groups of Indians.

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    The early nineteenth century of the United States was marked by its steady expansion to the Mississippi River. However, due to the Gadsden purchase, that lead to U.S. control of the borderlands of southern New Mexico and Arizona in addition to the authority over Oregon country, Texas and California; America’s expansion did not end there. Between 1830 and 1860 the U.S. practically doubled the amount of territory under its control.

    These territorial gains coincided with the arrival of troves of European and Asian immigrants who wished to join the surge of American settlers heading west. This, partnered with the discovery of gold in 1849, presented alluring possibilities for those prepared make the long quest westward. As a result, with the military’s protection and the U.S. government’s assistance, many settlers set about building their homesteads in the Great Plains and other areas of the Native American tribe-inhabited West.

    signing the treaty of traverse des sioux

    Native American Tribes


    Native American Policy can be defined as the laws and regulations and operations established and adapted in the United States to define the relationship between Native American tribes and the federal government. When the United States initially became a sovereign country, it implemented the European policies towards these local peoples, but over two centuries the U.S. tailored its own widely varying policies regarding the evolving perspectives and necessities of Native American regulation.

    In 1824, in order to execute the U.S. government’s Native American policies, Congress formed a new bureau inside the War Department called the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which worked directly with the U.S. Army to enforce their policies. At times the federal government recognized the Indians as self-governing, independent political communities with different cultural identities; however, at other times the government attempted to compel the Native American tribes to abandon their cultural identity, hand over their land and assimilate into the American traditions.

     

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    With the steady stream of settlers in to Indian “” land, Eastern newspapers circulated sensationalized stories of cruel native tribes carrying out massive massacres of hundreds of white travelers. Although some settlers lost their lives to American Indian attacks, this was certainly not the norm; in fact, Native American tribes generally helped settlers cross the Plains. Not only did the American Indians peddle wild game and other necessities to travelers, but they acted as guides and messengers between wagon trains as well. Despite the good natures of the American Indians, settlers still feared the risk of an attack.

     

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    To calm these worries, in 1851 the U.S. government kept a conference with several local Indian tribes and established the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Under this treaty, each Native American tribe accepted a bounded territory, allowed the government to construct tracks and forts in this territory and pledged to never assault settlers; in return the federal government agreed to honor the boundaries of each tribe’s territory and make total annual payments to the Indians. The Native American tribes responded peacefully to the treaty; in fact the Cheyenne, Sioux, Crow, Arapaho, Assinibione, Mandan, Gros Ventre and Arikara tribes, who entered into the treaty, even agreed to end the hostilities amongst their tribes in order to accept the terms of the treaty.

     

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    indian treaties were regularly violated by the USThis peaceful accord between the U.S. government and the Native American tribes didn’t stand very long. After hearing tales of fertile land and tremendous mineral wealth in the West, the government soon broke their assurances established in the Treat of Fort Laramie by allowing thousands of non-Indians to flood into the region. With so many newcomers heading west, the federal government established a plan of limiting Native Americans to reservations, small areas of acreage within a group’s territory that was earmarked exclusively for their use, in order to provide more property for “” non-Indian settlers.

    In a series of new treaties the U.S. government forced Native Americans to give up their land and migrate to reservations in exchange for protection from attacks by white settlers. In addition, the Indians were allocated a yearly payment that would include money in addition to food, animals, household goods and farming equipment. These reservations were created in an effort to clear the way for increased U.S. growth and administration in the West, as well as to keep the Native Americans divided from the whites in order to lower the potential for friction.

     

    History of the Plains Indians


    These accords had many problems. Most importantly many of the native people did not properly understand the document that they were confirming or the conditions within it; moreover, the treaties did not acknowledge the cultural practices of the Native Americans. In addition to this, the government institutions accountable for applying these policies were weighed down with awful management and corruption. In fact many treaty terms were never carried out.

    The U.S. government almost never honored their side of the accords even when the Native Americans migrated quietly to their reservations. Dishonest bureau agents repeatedly sold the supplies that were meant for the Indians on reservations to non-Indians. Moreover, as settlers demanded more territory in the West, the federal government continually reduced the size of reservation lands. By this time, many of the Native American people were unhappy with the treaties and angered by the settlers’ persistent demands for land.

     

    A Look at Native American Symbols


    Angered by the government’s dishonorable and unjust policies, several Native American tribes, including bands of Cheyennes, Arapahos, Comanches and Sioux, fought back. As they struggled to preserve their lands and their tribes’ survival, over a thousand skirmishes and battles broke out in the West between 1861 and 1891. In an attempt to push Native Americans onto the reservations and to end the violence, the U.S. government reacted to these incursions with significant military campaigns. Obviously the U.S. government’s Indian regulations required of a change.

     

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    iroquois indian serving union forces in the civil warNative American policy shifted drastically following the Civil War. Reformers felt that the policy of forcing Native Americans inside reservations was too severe even while industrialists, who were worried about their property and resources, thought of assimilation, the cultural absorption of the American Indians into “white America” to be the sole long-term means of ensuring Native American survival. In 1871 the government enacted a critical law proclaiming that the United States would not treat Native American tribes as autonomous entities.

    This legislation signaled a drastic shift in the government’s relationship with the native peoples – Congress now viewed the Native Americans, not as countries outside of its jurisdiction, but as wards of the government. By making Native Americans wards of the U.S. government, Congress presumed that it was easier to make the policy of assimilation a widely accepted part of the cultural mainstream of America.

     

    More On American Indian History


    Many U.S. government officials looked at assimilation as the most practical answer to what they viewed as “the Indian problem,” and the single long-term method of protecting U.S. interests in the West and the survival of the American Indians. In order to accomplish this, the government pressed Native Americans to move out of their customary dwellings, move into wooden buildings and become farmers.

    The federal government handed down laws that forced Native Americans to reject their established appearance and way of life. Some laws banned common religious practices while others required Indian males to cut their long locks. Agents on more than two-thirds of American Indian reservations established courts to enforce federal regulations that often banned traditional ethnic and spiritual practices.

    To speed the assimilation course, the government established Indian schools that attempted to quickly and forcefully Americanize Indian kids. According to the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the schools were created to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In order to accomplish this goal, the schools forced pupils to speak only English, put on proper American fashion and to substitute their Indian names with more “American” ones. These new regulations helped bring Native Americans closer to the conclusion of their established tribal identity and the beginning of their existence as citizens under the absolute control of the U.S. authorities.

     

    Native American Treaties with the United States


    In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act, the most important component of the U.S. government’s assimilation platform, which was created to “civilize” American Indians by teaching them to be farmers. In order to make this happen, Congress wanted to create non-public ownership of Indian land by splitting up reservations, which were collectively held, and issuing each family their own plot of land.

    Additionally, by pushing the Native Americans onto small plots of land, western developers and settlers could purchase the remaining territory. The General Allotment Act, also referred to as the Dawes Act, required that the Indian lands be surveyed and each family be given an allotment of between 80 and 160 acres, while unmarried adults were given between 40 to 80 acres; the remaining acreage was to be sold. Congress expected that the Dawes Act would split up Indian tribes and stimulate individual enterprise, while lowering the expense of Indian administration and producing prime property to be sold to white settlers.

     

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    The Dawes Act turned out to be disastrous for the American Indians; over the next decades they existed under regulations that outlawed their traditional way of living yet did not provide the necessary resources to support their businesses and families. Splitting the reservations into small parcels of land caused the significant decrease of Indian-owned land. Within three decades, the tribes had lost in excess of two-thirds of the acreage that they had controlled before the Dawes Act was enacted in 1887; the majority of the remaining land was sold to white settlers.

    Regularly, Native Americans were duped out of their allotments or were required to sell their property in order pay bills and feed their own families. As a result, the Indians were not “Americanized” and were routinely unable to become self-supporting farmers or ranchers, as the creators of the Act had wished. It also generated resentment among Indians toward the U.S. government, as the allotment operation often destroyed land that was the spiritual and cultural center of their activities.

     

    Native American Culture


    Between 1850 and 1900, life for Native Americans changed significantly. Due to U.S. government policies, American Indians were forced from their housing as their native lands were parceled out. The Plains, which they had previously roamed without restriction, were now inhabited with white settlers.

     

    The Upshot of the Indian Wars


    Over all these years the Indians ended up cheated out of their territory, food and lifestyle, as the federal government’s Indian policies forced them inside reservations and attempted to “Americanize” them. Many American Indian bands could not make it through relocation, assimilation and military loss; by 1890 the Native American population was reduced to less than 250,000 people. Thanks to generations of discriminatory and corrupt policies instituted by the United States government between 1850 and 1900, life for the American Indians was changed permanently.

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